The following reflections were written on return from the Walking with the Land Retreat, organised by the Rabbani Project (Green Deen Tribe). My immense thanks goes to them, for the work they do to create meaningful connections between women, the land and Allah.
Of all the plants that speak to me of the careful balance of life, blackberry is the strongest. She appears at the Lammas portal of the year and shows in her life cycle what it looks like to gracefully bloom, fruit and die. Like this time of year, she celebrates glorious full bodied abundance, whilst signalling the inevitable comfort of its slow decline into winter.
We enter the solstice with the striving energy of Spring growth behind us, and reaching its high peaks, ask ourselves the questions “Who am I?” and “How did I get here?”. Like the flower buds that break at the tips of the herb branches, we are suddenly awakened in a new and intoxicating space that feels enticing and terrifying all at once. Dive deep – and you will meet the waves of joy, gratitude and comfort you have been seeking.
I am here to share a little of what is occurring for me right now, and a few themes that emerge whenever this phase of the year comes.
The summer, particularly after midsummer, feels to me like a restless time of conflicting energies. Perhaps triggered by the years I have spent in education, the thought of September approaching often fills me with questions: “Am I ready?” “What will the next chapter bring?” and sometimes the answers to these questions are difficult.
We are now also entering a new Islamic year, and the blessed month of Muharram. The energy is mixed, between the waning of the meteorological year post-midsummer and the rising of a new, spiritual year. What both of these energies bring to me, however, is the need to shed what is no longer good for me, and all the grief that comes along with that.
It was my first distillation for months, and the most welcome return to heart. The day started early with our journey to Phytology, a magical nature reserve in the heart of urban London. After a reluctant start, as if I were waking up my herbalist bones after a long sleep, I tingled with excitement as I carried my smallest alembic across central London on a clear, cold spring morning.
The Henna Souq has a determinable atmosphere, defined by the wind in the leaves of its two plane trees and the towering building of the 13th Century Maristan at its heart. Lining the small square are little shops, some of them no bigger than three metre square, of which around half are cosmetic herbalists. There is also the old weighing scales, which are still used today when large quantities of herbs are brought here by merchants. It is the home to Simohammed, a friend to many in the city, who operates one of the shops alongside his brother. Always inviting visitors to sit and drink tea with him, it easily becomes a rest-stop on a day of earnest wanderings up and down the hills of the medina. The chance you get to sit in the presence of the square is often enough to reveal just a hint of its magic.